Beer Week

It’s the most wonderful time… for a beer!

Certainly that line could be sung nearly anytime of the year in Beer City.

During the extra long week of February 17-28, also known as GR Beer Week, the community of Grand Rapids busts out of their cabin fever and celebrates all things beer.

Sure, there may be snow and ice on the ground, but we are Michiganders: we drink beer for breakfast — outside with pride, in the bitter cold of winter. Yes, that’s right — Beer Week GR will culminate with the 2 Day Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark on February 26 and 27. It is an outdoor event, and every attendee should dress for the weather (as in, ski-gear.) Saturday sold out in minutes, but Friday tickets are still available.

winter beer fest

To fire up enthusiasts’ livers – ahem – spirits for the Winter Beer Fest, and to welcome visitors to Beer City, GR Beer Week was created in 2012 and this year it is overflowing with nearly 120 events. Check out ExperienceGR’s Beer Week calendar for a full list of events that is updated on a daily basis. Even if you are not a planner, you could drop into many Grand Rapids area breweries, tap-houses, or brewpubs during Beer Week and be greeted with smiling faces from the collaborative community of Grand Rapids and some form of festivities.

Many Beer Week events will feature tap takeovers, ranging from a few select taps from a small MI brewery, to a crazy 20-tap blow-out from one brewery. Most breweries plan to bring rare craft beers, a few might even toss in a specialty firkin you won’t find anywhere else. It truly is a fun adventure. Be prepared to stand, to be kind, and to tip bartenders and servers generously. Also… designate a driver when necessary.

Beer Week

As you make your way around Beer Week GR, be sure to bring your Brewsader Passport to earn stamps at Grand Rapids Area Breweries. With 8 stamps during Beer Week GR, participants will receive a Brewsader koozie and bottle opener, plus an official Brewsader t-shirt. Passports and prizes can be picked up at GoSite inside the Grand Rapids Art Museum while supplies last. As an added bonus, enthusiasts will earn extra perks at participating breweries. With a full passport stamped (23 stamps!) you are considered an ULTIMATE BREWSADER and will earn even more perks at participating breweries. You don’t want to miss out on these incredible deals, from pint glasses to mug club memberships — it’s worth making the full Beer City Tour and earning those stamps. Again, drink responsibly!

Beer Week

ExperienceGR has also lined up Cool Brews Hot Eats with 50 menu items for enthusiasts to devour at a wide array of Grand Rapids area restaurants during the same time-frame. Cool Brews Hot Eats menu options are beer-infused entrées, desserts, and beyond that utilize beer as an ingredient, or a dish created for a specific pairing with a Michigan beer. There truly is something to warm everyone’s palate up for the last weeks of February.

I’ve got cabin fever and the only cure is… Beer Week GR!

bay tour

bay tour

“Up north is sacred,” a phrase uttered quite a few times throughout the day. Indeed, a Michigander grows up well-conditioned to survive and thrive on road trips. Children learn at a young age that rest stops (bathroom opportunities) can be fifty miles apart and parents learn to ignore the violence that occurs in the backseat between siblings. It is a sacred tradition, and with the rising craft industry in the state, the art of the road trip has evolved into something even more special.

Wintertime in Michigan is glorious. And although the winter dangers can hinder some, it should not take away from visiting some of the best regions in the state. With this in mind, MittenBrew decided to go on a day trip with friends and family through the northern bays of Michigan to explore the craft universe.

Petoskey, a lovely year-round town neighboring Little Traverse Bay, hails as the starting point for our adventure. I go into town alone (my crew was still waking up) and grab a cozy booth at Dripworks Coffee, beginning my adventure with one of their delicious frittatas. Also famous for their pastries—the owner is a classically trained French pastry chef—I grab a myriad of breakfast treats for my group back home.

With our snacks packed and our winter boots equipped, the group heads out, enjoying the scenic drive on southbound US-31 to Traverse City. The group includes my younger brother, my best friend and her sister, and my friend Kaitlyn, our Traverse City guide. To review our game plan, we duck into Brew, a coffeehouse and tap room located in the heart of downtown.

“There are almost too many!” Sami exclaims, pointing at all of the things she wants to order.

Too many coffees. Too many beers. Too many ridiculously delicious-looking muffins. Clearly, there are no bad choices here. For my brother, the hot chocolate with the homemade whipped cream and chocolate sauce is the obvious winner, perfectly suitable for today’s chilly weather.

On a sidenote for new Brew-goers, they do a super-cool dollar coffee stand inside with a pay-by-honesty policy. A great tidbit to know if someone’s on the run and needs coffee fast!

A light snow starts to fall as we head further north, our next destination puts us at Hop Lot Brewing Company in Suttons Bay. Opened last summer, HLBC boasts an indoor pub as well as an outdoor beer garden. A beautiful green space (that is currently snowy white) framed by a towering forest surrounds the pub. Large, Viking-style tables frame cozy bonfires and make for an excellent drinking atmosphere.

We grab our sampler flights and brave the crisp weather for a seat outside. Some beer highlights include: the Trail’s Edge Brown IPA, a nicely bitter brew with an excellent roasty aroma, and the Leelanau Exchange, a Bourbon Espresso Stout that is gloriously smooth and creamy with just the right amount of espresso kick at the end. Paired with perfectly melted grilled cheese sandwiches and steaming bowls of tomato bisque, we are all in a winter wonderland craft heaven.

On our way out, we run into a group of people emerging from the woods dressed in cold weather gear, looking like winter explorers.

“We’re hitting the trails around here, but beer first!” says one of the group.

I file that idea away for the next adventure as we all pile into the car, onwards to the next stop: Northport.

Nestled in Northport Bay, Northport Brewing operates in the center of town—a perfect drinking beacon for the surrounding community. The pub space is cozy rather than small, and they have a lovely outdoor space centered around a beautiful stone fireplace. A true definition of a quiet small town, Northport has become a destination on the trail north through the bays, inviting friends and family into a welcoming atmosphere.

In the middle of our flights, one of the owners, Scott Cain makes an appearance with his son. Alongside the pubtender, we all discuss the merits of microbreweries in Michigan.

“They are small spaces, but the beer still has big flavor and aroma,” said Kaitlyn.

“Our goal is to feed the thirsty!” said the pubtender.

The majority winner at Northport Brewing is their Northern Queen Stout, an easy-drinking pour that does not compromise in flavor, aroma, or mouthfeel.

With the sudden snowstorm rolling across Northport Bay, we head back towards our home base in Petoskey. Ending the day at Beards Brewery with imperial pints of Serendipity Porter and fresh, delicatessen charcuterie from Symon’s General Store on the corner, we toast the day and reflect on our adventures. Our bellies are full of quality beer and food, and we can’t help but plot the next trip around the state.

butchery

Harmony Hall, the companion to the flagship Harmony Brewing Company in Eastown, Grand Rapids, knows a thing or two about craft.

A smaller brewery in our saturated beer city, Harmony recognized right away the need to produce quality product, and that went beyond just the beer. From the beginning, it was about sourcing locally and providing craft food to compliment the craft beer. In the instance of the Eastown locale, it was about the pizza — fresh toppings, local farms, and a wood fired oven.

For the Westside location, Harmony Brewing dug into neighborhood roots and drew inspiration from the building itself. Harmony Hall is the former Rauser Quality Sausage Co., built in 1908. German, Polish, and Irish immigrants defined the vibe of the Westside of Grand Rapids, and brought cultural heritage as well as plenty of delicious food options, including locally made sausage.

Talking with Gabe Araujo, head Chef at Harmony Hall, he reiterates this point. “Anyone who knows Harmony [Brewing Company] know they have always been very adamant about using sustainable resources and keeping everything local and fresh.” Sausage and beer? Well, that just makes sense.

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Beyond the revitalization of the past and nod to the architecture of the building, Harmony Hall chooses not to just serve sausage, but to source its own product, butchering its pigs in-house and making all their sausages from scratch.

“All of the pigs come from local farms.” says Araujo, “currently Heffron Farms, and we’ll be working with Rakowski Family Farms as well soon. We’re in contact with Provision Family Farms, which raise all heritage hogs like red wattle. They are adorable and delicious.”

There is a renaissance beyond just the craft nature of the beer, and more and more places are realizing that the quality of the food they offer needs to stand with and compliment the quality of beer they provide. Harmony Hall is one of these early influencers, recognizing that the consumer who chooses craft over mass market probably isn’t one who will settle for frozen french fries and something dipped in ranch.

There’s a beauty in butchery, and it’s easy to see. We’ll just let these pictures speak for themselves.

Photography: Steph Harding

Brownies

Masen James Bakery is taking craft beer to another level by baking it right into their brownies, cupcakes, and fudge… oh my!

Inspired by a longtime passion for baking, owner Clarice Dennison was encouraged by her daughter Sydney Dennison to open up Masen James Bakery storefront after a chance encounter with Goose Island Brewery during their Bourbon County release in 2014. Conversations sparked and friendships were molded. This year, Masen James was given 2 cases of 2014 and 2015 Bourbon County to bake 1,000 craft beer brownies for Goose Island’s Black Friday release. Yes — wipe the drool off of your mouth and keep reading, it gets better.

2015 has been a whirlwind of creative goodness for Clarice and Sydney. They teamed up to bake sweet and savory treats for events at the Downtown Outdoor Market on Ionia over the spring and summer, while working on opening a storefront on Monroe Center during ArtPrize. The main focus? Infusing craft beer into many of Clarice’s concoctions while enhancing the unique flavors in the beer.

Brownies

 

Mason James Bakery doesn’t like things to get stale. Their seasonal menu changes on a daily basis to maintain freshness and keep up with demand. Their craft beer brownies are baked in a special pan so they are all corner pieces, making each brownie crisp and chewy on the outside and oh so moist and gooey on the inside — they nearly melt on your tongue.

I was treated to a brownie baked with New Holland Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Toasted Chilies, topped with a chili powder sugar. Holy wow!!! These brownies practically punched me in the face with flavor. First, you taste the rich chocolate brownies are known for, then your eyes light up as you savor the slight hint of heat from the chilies. YUM!

Next I enjoyed a Saugatuck Brewing Co Neapolitan Milk Stout brownie topped with a chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a crushed dried strawberry topping. The familiar trifecta of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate flavor of the Neapolitan Milk Stout poured out into the brownie, the crushed strawberry topping made for a beautiful finish. Delicious!

Clarice has had a passion for the culinary arts since she was a little girl, but didn’t go to culinary school and instead ended up working for Spectrum Health. After she started making craft beer brownies, Sydney told her “Mom, you have a gift; you need to share that gift. I am not the only one who is saying that, friends and strangers are telling you this. Teach me how to bake and we will do this together. I will help you put your product out there.” Sydney continues. “After being turned down a few times, I brought some of her products to the Downtown Outdoor Market, we got our foot in the door in the spring of 2014, and we built up clientele. This is my mom’s dream, but I am so happy I can help her fulfill it.”

Masen James Bakery also offers a wide variety of artisanal sweet and savory scones, cupcakes, cookies, macarons, fudge, bread, and more.

Taste Masen James Bakery’s goodies for yourself at 40 Monroe Center NW in downtown Grand Rapids. If you’re out and about this weekend, swing by the Pyramid Scheme Bake Sale and Craft Show on Sunday, December 20 from 12:00pm – 4:00pm where they will donate all proceeds to Well House.

Cedar Springs Brewing

I’m seated in an industrial looking, high-ceiled venue that’s filled with long picnic tables, various flags gently waving in front of second story windows, fermentation vessels peeking out from high above the bar, and wooden sliding doors that divide the space into private room, main beer hall, and back of house operations. Upon closer inspection, I find little hints of artwork from the old Schnitzelbank restaurant, recommissioned kegs that serve as bathroom sinks, and I even note the cluster of Weissbier glasses drenched in light throughout the space.

I am, of course, in Cedar Springs Brewing Company, the newest addition to our family of craft breweries in Michigan. Located at 95 Main in downtown Cedar Springs, this gem of Germanic goodness opened its doors on November 13 this year to excited guests. I’m here almost a month later and I must say that I’m enjoying this Monday afternoon as compared to the boisterous nature of the opening. This time, I even get to sit and indulge in food as well as beer.

Within the hall, the almost non-existent acoustics allow for raucous laughter to roll off the walls and startle my senses. It’s obvious that patrons are merry with good beer and friends, and what better way to relish in that than by sitting at a long, inviting table? It’s been said plenty of times before that we Americans like to have our “space”, but adding new friends to your group can make for a great time. The idea of sharing a table is blasphemous to some, but here it’s encouraged; a nice nod to traditional standards from that sweet ol’ land of Germany.

Cedar Springs Brewing

What I noticed immediately about both the beer and the food menu is the obvious dichotomy between old world and new. German fare is designated on one side of the menu labeled Bavarian Menu. The standard American fare is on the opposite side. Though it can be an uncommon practice to visually separate food types, by doing so, Cedar Springs seems to beg the question, “Are you craving a traditional or a modern approach today?”

The divide is further pronounced with the beer offerings. At the tap handles behind the bar, German beers are labeled as “Küsterer” while the American style beers are given the Cedar Springs Brewing Company logCedar Springs Brewingo. The same structure is found on the actual menu.

Since I already had a German style Weissbier in front of me, I couldn’t help but choose the “traditional” route for my food.

Knoblauchsuppe, or rather, garlic soup is the first item on my list. Personally I usually steer away from anything directly garlicky because of the pungent flavors that will emanate and haunt me the rest of the night. However, this soup contains all the lovely flavors of garlic without the effective scent left behind. This mouth-watering, perfectly salted soup was so delicious that I ended up ordering another. My advice? Order this soup and wash it down with the Küsterer Original Weissbier. I found it to be a nice little pairing.

Up next was the Leberkäse, a seared Bavarian pork loaf that comes with a sunny side-up egg, greens, mustard, and bread. Salty and savory, it was just begging for a beer. I paired this dish with the Küsterer Salzburger Märzen so the lovely and subtle lager could wipe out the salt and fat and cleanse my palate.

Cedar Springs Brewing

Though I didn’t eat more from the menu that day, one item in particular called attention to itself. On the American fare portion of the menu was a sandwich that I believe is worth noting and bringing friends back in for. I’m talking about The Monstrosity Burger.

Coming in at $33.50 and recommended to be eaten by 2-4 people, this insane burger invites a great challenge that is likely to be met with wide eyes and cheers from fellow beer drinkers in the hall. The burger itself is a “Lumbertown burger with sloppy Shaun, pub pulled pork, wager smoked brisket, bacon, american cheese, smoked cheddar, gouda cheese, memphis class sauce, fried egg, crispy onions, and tomato on a classic bun. Comes with a ½ lb of flannel fries and two whole chicken wings”. Indeed!

Turning our focus toward the malty liquids, I’d like to leave you off with my brief impressions of a couple beers that were on tap for the day. Though the variety and amount of beer available is still on the lighter side due to the opening, I want to point out that the styles produced here just so happen to be beers you’d want to drink several glasses of anyway.

The Küsterer Original Weissbier is a pretty little weizen that is indeed quite hazy and a deep amber in color. A white head sits on top and takes its time disintegrating in my glass. Bread and lemon are the most prominent flavors and aroma. A hint of clove lingers in the background of this traditional and comforting beer.

Cedar Springs Brewing

Cedar Springs Yinzers Roundabout IPA was a collaboration beer with Roundabout Brewing from Pittsburgh. This clear and burnished gold colored IPA was quite well balanced and thirst-quenching for an American style IPA. It provided light floral and honey notes along with a layered bready character that binds it all together. It’s pleasantly and balancing-ly bitter throughout, though that’s not the defining feature of the brew. The malt provides a bread-like sweetness that balances the almost European-esque display of hops, though I know the varieties used actually originate from New Zealand and the United States. Overall it’s a pretty beer that lends plenty of opportunity for pairing in the future.

Cedar Springs is now home to a 15-barrel system brewery that is owned by David Ringler and hasbrewing operations run by head brewer, Matt Peterson, previously of Schlafly Beer of St. Louis. It appears to me that they have a long and wonderful road ahead of them, despite the normal hiccups of any new operation. I was delighted to make an appearance and I’m already parched sitting here thinking about that Weissbier. Should you see me in the brewery on my next visit, please join me at my table for a well deserved “Prost!” to Cedar Springs Brewing Company.

 

Cedar Springs Brewing

I’m seated in an industrial looking, high-ceiled venue that’s filled with long picnic tables, various flags gently waving in front of second story windows, fermentation vessels peeking out from high above the bar, and wooden sliding doors that divide the space into private room, main beer hall, and back of house operations. Upon closer inspection, I find little hints of artwork from the old Schnitzelbank restaurant, recommissioned kegs that serve as bathroom sinks, and I even note the cluster of Weissbier glasses drenched in light throughout the space.
I am, of course, in Cedar Springs Brewing Company, the newest addition to our family of craft breweries in Michigan. Located at 95 Main in downtown Cedar Springs, this gem of Germanic goodness opened its doors on November 13 this year to excited guests. I’m here almost a month later and I must say that I’m enjoying this Monday afternoon as compared to the boisterous nature of the opening. This time, I even get to sit and indulge in food as well as beer.
Within the hall, the almost non-existent acoustics allow for raucous laughter to roll off the walls and startle my senses. It’s obvious that patrons are merry with good beer and friends, and what better way to relish in that than by sitting at a long, inviting table? It’s been said plenty of times before that we Americans like to have our “space”, but adding new friends to your group can make for a great time. The idea of sharing a table is blasphemous to some, but here it’s encouraged; a nice nod to traditional standards from that sweet ol’ land of Germany.
Cedar Springs Brewing
What I noticed immediately about both the beer and the food menu is the obvious dichotomy between old world and new. German fare is designated on one side of the menu labeled Bavarian Menu. The standard American fare is on the opposite side. Though it can be an uncommon practice to visually separate food types, by doing so, Cedar Springs seems to beg the question, “Are you craving a traditional or a modern approach today?”
The divide is further pronounced with the beer offerings. At the tap handles behind the bar, German beers are labeled as “Küsterer” while the American style beers are given the Cedar Springs Brewing Company logCedar Springs Brewingo. The same structure is found on the actual menu.
Since I already had a German style Weissbier in front of me, I couldn’t help but choose the “traditional” route for my food.
Knoblauchsuppe, or rather, garlic soup is the first item on my list. Personally I usually steer away from anything directly garlicky because of the pungent flavors that will emanate and haunt me the rest of the night. However, this soup contains all the lovely flavors of garlic without the effective scent left behind. This mouth-watering, perfectly salted soup was so delicious that I ended up ordering another. My advice? Order this soup and wash it down with the Küsterer Original Weissbier. I found it to be a nice little pairing.
Up next was the Leberkäse, a seared Bavarian pork loaf that comes with a sunny side-up egg, greens, mustard, and bread. Salty and savory, it was just begging for a beer. I paired this dish with the Küsterer Salzburger Märzen so the lovely and subtle lager could wipe out the salt and fat and cleanse my palate.
Cedar Springs Brewing
Though I didn’t eat more from the menu that day, one item in particular called attention to itself. On the American fare portion of the menu was a sandwich that I believe is worth noting and bringing friends back in for. I’m talking about The Monstrosity Burger.
Coming in at $33.50 and recommended to be eaten by 2-4 people, this insane burger invites a great challenge that is likely to be met with wide eyes and cheers from fellow beer drinkers in the hall. The burger itself is a “Lumbertown burger with sloppy Shaun, pub pulled pork, wager smoked brisket, bacon, american cheese, smoked cheddar, gouda cheese, memphis class sauce, fried egg, crispy onions, and tomato on a classic bun. Comes with a ½ lb of flannel fries and two whole chicken wings”. Indeed!
Turning our focus toward the malty liquids, I’d like to leave you off with my brief impressions of a couple beers that were on tap for the day. Though the variety and amount of beer available is still on the lighter side due to the opening, I want to point out that the styles produced here just so happen to be beers you’d want to drink several glasses of anyway.
The Küsterer Original Weissbier is a pretty little weizen that is indeed quite hazy and a deep amber in color. A white head sits on top and takes its time disintegrating in my glass. Bread and lemon are the most prominent flavors and aroma. A hint of clove lingers in the background of this traditional and comforting beer.
Cedar Springs Brewing
Cedar Springs Yinzers Roundabout IPA was a collaboration beer with Roundabout Brewing from Pittsburgh. This clear and burnished gold colored IPA was quite well balanced and thirst-quenching for an American style IPA. It provided light floral and honey notes along with a layered bready character that binds it all together. It’s pleasantly and balancing-ly bitter throughout, though that’s not the defining feature of the brew. The malt provides a bread-like sweetness that balances the almost European-esque display of hops, though I know the varieties used actually originate from New Zealand and the United States. Overall it’s a pretty beer that lends plenty of opportunity for pairing in the future.
Cedar Springs is now home to a 15-barrel system brewery that is owned by David Ringler and hasbrewing operations run by head brewer, Matt Peterson, previously of Schlafly Beer of St. Louis. It appears to me that they have a long and wonderful road ahead of them, despite the normal hiccups of any new operation. I was delighted to make an appearance and I’m already parched sitting here thinking about that Weissbier. Should you see me in the brewery on my next visit, please join me at my table for a well deserved “Prost!” to Cedar Springs Brewing Company.
 

GRAND RAPIDS – I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.  Not just your average ice cream though – ice cream beer.

Two completely different products, both delivered in a pint, combined forces to support one common goal: to protect our winters against climate change.  New Belgium Brewing Company and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream collaborated to make both of their pints pair together to make a Salted Caramel Brownie two ways.  One being a new delicious flavor packaged in an ice cream pint for Ben & Jerry’s, called Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale, while the other is constructed into a beer, called Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, delivered in a pint glass for New Belgium.  

This past Monday, New Belgium and the West Michigan Environmental Council (WMEAC) put the pints together. Asher Attick, Michigan Field Marketing Manager for New Belgium and Nicholas Occhipinti, Director of Policy and Community Activism for WMEAC, served up pour overs, or beer floats, at an event called “Pour Over Climate Sessions.”  

A sweet beer seems to be the beer of choice for the float.  Yet one ends up with a double sweet overload. This mistake does not happen with The Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale.  It has enough of the sweet notes subtly peeking through, but it doesn’t overpower the delicious sweetness we all love from Ben and Jerry’s. The perfect sweet success story.

Success also comes through Attick’s duty in Michigan to work with local nonprofits and community outreach, tying it into the regional and national programs that New Belgium is running as a whole.

“We always feel at the size we are, when we go into a new state, it is going to make an impact. And the last thing we ever want to see is a negative impact.  Beer is a competitive business––that is never going to change. We feel it is important going into communities and lending a helping hand to make positive change.  Especially when it is something we strongly believe in as a brewery, like climate change,” stated Attick.

The two brands together with their pints are encouraging communities to write letters to their Governors about the importance of  climate change––not only what may become of our climate in the future, but how it is impacting each and every one of us today.

“Right now in Michigan, there is major climate legislation that is about to come to the forefront, and the only way the politicians care is if you tell them they care. The Fruit Ridge in Michigan was devastated two years ago, and Michigan has already had six 1,000 year floods in the last several years,” Occhipinti said.

With a climate continuing to have patterns of freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, our crops will suffer.  That means there could be no hops, there could be no apples and there could be no grapes for the libations we love dearly.  As much as we may all love mild winters and dry summers, our crops do not.  No crops means no beer.  No beer means lots of unhappy locals.

Monday night’s event held letter stations, where people were encouraged to fill out a Mad Lib-styled letters to send to Governor Snyder about what is important to them about climate change and the issues that matter specifically to Michigan. At the end of the program, Attick is taking the handwritten letters and mailing them to the Governor Snyder.  Right now there are over 200 letters that will be mailed and end up on the desk of Governor Snyder.  

The donations from the event went directly to benefit WMEAC but from a national standpoint, for every pint of ice cream sold and every 6-pack, a dollar from each benefit #ProtectOurWinters. Buy both to make some beer floats at home and protect our four seasons!

Sponsored by New Belgium – Michigan

Pairing beer with a Thanksgiving day meal can be tougher than one may expect. As I think back to previous experiences of bringing bottles of English Brown Ales, Hefeweizens, and even a three-liter “Jéroboam” Chimay Grand Reserve, I remember how unmanageable it was to pair the beer with all of the dishes that were actually on the table. With so much variety in flavors and textures and styles, how can you choose what will work with your selection and what won’t?

I’d like to help you navigate those beers this upcoming Thanksgiving. I tested out five completely unique Michigan brewery beers that I know will pair well with all the components of your meal during different stages of the day.

Number One: The “I’m-ready-to-party-and-my-palate-is-fresh-as-a-newborn-baby” phase.

All right, you’ve just walked in the door and are greeted by family and friends, which means one thing: you need a drink. It’s going to be a very long day of consumption, so how about we start off with something subtle with lower alcohol content? I’d suggest popping open a bottle of Odd Side Ales Fig Brewton.

ThanksgivingBeer (3)

The Fig Brewton is their version of an English Pale Ale brewed with figs. At 4% ABV this aromatic-forward brew is your ticket to beginning your light buzz on an empty stomach, because why would you eat something before the party? This dark amber and cloudy concoction is full of sweet fig aromatics, notes of brown sugar, light toffee and an earthy/dry fall leaf character. The flavor is very, very subtle. It contains a faint hint at fig and the earthiness with a balancing hop bitterness.

It’s happened. You’ve finally sucked down your first beer of the day and are probably feeling a tingly happiness in your belly. Ready to eat? Good, because we have a great beer for the first round.

Normally at this point there are a few lighter snacky dishes. Dishes such as layered salads, roasted pumpkin seeds, deviled eggs, polish roses, roast squash, and plenty of other food options are offered to the guests. You begin telling stories, gossiping with cousins, updating everyone about your kids, sharing photos and creating that base of food in your belly that you will regret later once you’re in a food coma.

At this pivotal point in the day, we are opening up our palate to various flavors. Pungent onion, bright salads, salty spreads, and so many other flavors are being introduced to our willing bellies. Because we’re in the initial phase of sharing, it’s time to break out a 750mL bottle of Rockford Brewing Company’s Country Ale. It’s a 7.3% ABV Saison that is hazy and a beautiful orange/honey color. The aroma is complex and layered with notes of lemon, white pepper, grape nuts cereal and just a touch of overripe strawberry. It tastes quite similar, but the flavor is more subtle than the robust bouquet. I found that this beer is all about aromatics and mouthfeel.

ThanksgivingBeer (7)

The Country Ale is quite bright with balancing acidity and a touch of alcohol warmth and some spice-forward heat and bitterness. It has a soft feel on the tongue with a dry finish. The beer is excellent as it warms up and will be exceptional with all of the brighter but varied flavors of the first round of Thanksgiving food. Use the spritzy carbonation, the pungent spices, and the bright acidity to scrape and lift off fatty foods and sweet flavors. The peppery notes will resonate with spices on the various dishes, while the lemon notes will resonate with vinaigrettes on salads and contrast with fattier foods like egg. Above all, the beer will rinse away any light to medium food flavor so you won’t feel quite as palate fatigued. I mean, come on. You aren’t allowed to get full right away!

The table has finally been set, the children have been wrangled, and your family and friends are now gathered around the table to tuck into the best meal of the year. There are so many dishes on the table that you’re drooling into! Turkey, honey baked ham, green bean casserole, mashed and sweet potatoes, the cranberry sauce, stuffing and gravy. For you vegetarians out there, perhaps there are delicious treats such as a mushroom and farro pie, pumpkin orzo with sage or perhaps a butternut squash, kale, and cheddar bread pudding. All in all, we have a literal feast in front of us that is just teeming with savory, salty and sweet flavors. Here comes the most important role for beer all day. We need beers to pair with everything that has been set before us.

My suggestion? Grab two completely different beers and pour them in separate glasses and drink them BOTH during the meal. This time around, I have chosen Pepper in the Rye from Brewery Vivant and the Leroy Brown from Big Lake Brewing.

Pepper in the Rye is a Rye Ale brewed with green peppercorns that comes in at 6.3% ABV. It’s a pretty amber brew that comes in a one-pint can. The aroma gives notes of strong orange peel, a light touch of lemon, some light barnyard funk, a big dose of those green peppercorns that actually make me feel heat in my nostrils, a bit of spicy rye, and bread crust or biscuit notes.

ThanksgivingBeer (4)

The beer tastes pretty much the same as it smells. Bright spice notes of the green peppercorn are present, especially as it warms up. I detect cracker-like notes from the malt, and the earthy hops hang out way underneath the more robust characteristics. The Pepper in the Rye is a tart and brisk brew with spice forward bitterness to balance it all out. Alcohol warmth is present and smacks my tongue around just a little. Tartness ensues into the finish to create an overlapping effect to the other mouthfeel-oriented sensations.

It’s well balanced yet quite complex. The Pepper in the Rye is going to use its alcohol warmth, its tart character and its spice-forward bitterness to cut fat and sweet flavors just like what we experienced with the Country Ale. The tartness will balance out yet accentuate saltiness. Try pairing this beer specifically with your stuffing, vegetable casserole dishes like green bean casserole, and ANY of those vegetarian dishes I mentioned. Pumpkin orzo with sage paired with Pepper in the Rye? Forget about it!

We need some malt to sooth salt and resonate with savory meat flavors and sweeter dishes such as sweet potato casserole. Let’s keep it easy-going, malty and delicious with the Leroy Brown from Big Lake Brewing.

ThanksgivingBeer (5)

The Leroy Brown is an almost clear and medium to light brown brew with pretty ruby highlights. It’s aromatics lend notes of chocolate, nutella, nuts, and soft breadiness. The flavor gives me notes of toasted biscuit, nuts, and milk chocolate, all on a layer of delicious bread notes. Mouthfeel with this beer is one of the best parts. Quite smooth, approachable, and simple. I feel that many Brown Ales these days tend to roam into porter category or have higher alcohol levels than I’d like, but this one hits the mark. Pair this lovely number with your turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, glazed carrots, gravy, or your mushroom and farro pie.

It’s that time. Your belly aches from too much food and so you’re sitting far away from everyone so you can groan and fart in peace. Perhaps you’ve taken a nap at this point and aren’t sure if you want to go home to finish passing out or keep up your buzz and drink more beer.

For those of you who are willing to rally and end your day with a bit of dessert, look no further than pairing your pumpkin pie with Griffin Claw Brewing Company’s Three Scrooges Winter Ale brewed with orange peel, honey, and spices.

ThanksgivingBeer (6)

The Three Scrooges comes in at a manageable 6.5% ABV. It’s a hazy and dark amber beer with strong spice and orange peel aromatics. Get notes of sweet bread, caramel, nutella, cinnamon and raisin? Me too.

It seems to be a trend with the chosen beers, but the flavor is not as punchy as the aroma. It’s subtle but still quite pleasant. I pick out flavors of toast, milk chocolate, light marshmallow, orange peel, and a honey/toffee character.

The Winter Ale is smooth as hell with a tight and dry finish and a touch of alcohol warming. Pumpkin pie, for me, is too often paired with more pumpkin or sweet allspice forward beers. I’d wager that this traditional dessert will pair quite well with the Three Scrooges Winter Ale because of its subtle sweetness and little pop of bitterness and acidity from the orange peel. It’s subtle enough to highlight your pumpkin pie without sweetening the ensemble up too much that you can’t finish the last bite. Layered and lovely, I think these two will get along just fine.

So there you have it. A Thanksgiving meal and a few beers to help you along your journey of palate happiness. Should you feel the need, as I expect you will, to cap off the evening with one last beer, please grab yourself a snifter and pull out your big and bold brews. English Barleywines, Wee Heavys, Imperial Stouts and a variety of beers brewed with fruit truly shine in these moments.


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